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Just a bit of fluff? Tuesday March 28, 2017

At the weekend, I like to get up early. Take time, eat breakfast, stare into space.

Listening to music is essential, and reading for a bit is good, then by 8am I can start work on my novel.

I've been writing it for fifteen years, in different homes and different places, and I've had to change from longhand (Staedtler Noris pencil – sharp, with a rubber on the end – and an abundance of scrap paper) to typing because of disability and, no surprises, RSI.

But there's always been one constant companion; a pot of tea.

It has to be poured into a cup that sits on a saucer – though the pattern has changed, as has the use/absence of milk – and, as bonus, I can have something nice to eat, but it has to be on a plate that matches the cup and saucer.

When I am low, my state of mind can affect my ability to write, to immerse myself in the world I've created, to get in touch with the characters I love and my rituals have no effect.

One morning, I found myself thinking of something my niece had said when she was about four and I'd taken her to see the ballet version of The Snowman.

She looked at the snowman on stage and said "It's just a bit of fluff!"

The morning I thought of it, it felt as if my writing rituals were exactly that – just a bit of fluff – and that they only worked when I was feeling happy and writing well.

That I only deserved them when that was the case.

If I was feeling low and failing to write, I didn't deserve anything good at all. And I fear that if I carry out the rituals when I am in that state, they will become associated with the low patch and it will mean they lose their power when I am happy.

And it's not just on writing mornings I'm like that.

I can't work out which comes first – the self-punishment or the feeling low, the superstition or the association – but they seem to go hand in hand.

I've tried to think of a recovery toolkit – pleasures disappear from my mind when the bleakness sets in – and I've got a long way to go with it.

I am working on trying to be kinder to myself but sometimes I can't remember what kindness is.

What rituals help you?

In what ways are you kind to yourself?

What do you have in your 'Toolkit for Bleak Days'?

The Librarian
A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Eva Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 6:53am

I totally get your fear that you'll make an association with the ritual and being down.

I have a daily routine and that helps, so when I am down I follow the routine, instead of just getting up and doing it on auto, I usually have to route myself out of whatever ruminating is going on and say to myself OK then let's get on with the routine, that helps to get me moving and the change of state usually helps a bit. The other thing I do is not be hard on myself, if I don't have the energy to do a but of the routine I let it go, I'll pick it up again, or not, when I can.

I just, yesterday, told myself this will not always be like this, and that helped me to move through the day.

So even though I worry about tainting my routine I don't think it actually has, I just have different approaches to it at different times.

Thanks librarian

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 4:46pm

Thank you, Eva. I am routine about many things and it really helps to manage, doesn't it? I have trouble with fatigue, amongst other things, and having a reoutine means I can be on autopilot and save my energy for the unexpected, the unusual and the exciting! I worry so much about the being down tainting the pleasures, but you have a point. All the best with keeping going!

Mary Wednesday Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 7:13am

I can't write at home without a clear desk (if if all the clutter has merely shifted to the craft table behind me. The important thing is I can't see it. Also my lovely peacock mug my sister gave me years ago. Black coffee for me. And I have to have dealt with essential household chores so they're not on my mind. I think routine is essential. It is never just fluff

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 4:52pm

It's good to hear about your routines and your writing pleasures that accompany your work, Mary. Since going on a fatigue managment course, I try to break up the writing days with household tasks, the theory being that you work out what you can manage on a bad day - 15mins of thinking, 5mins of standing, 15mins of walking, for instance - and alternate them. I used to feel as if I'd broken my brain, writing non-stop all weekend, and that I hadn't got any jobs done, but now my brain has a good rest (and I have good ideas when I step away from the computer) and I even get jobs done! This blog was actually written about six months ago and I've since read a useful article about motivation and how a routine acts as a cue for getting on with a task. All the best, Mary, and I love reading your blogs!

The Gardener Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 8:58am

Mary Wed, agree - desk must be clear - ditto kitchen as I consider cooking 'creative' and need a clear 'palette'. Tea MUST be China, in porcelain you can see through. I try for an attainable routine, otherwise I really would go mad, now a rarity with the worsening state of Mr G. Earlier in his illness routine was very good with him, allayed fears. Health warning, saga coming, switch off NOW. 'Toolkit for bleak days'. 1. Wet bed night before, all linen chucked on terrace. 2,house full of builders. 3. no water, central heating. 4.Drill noise infernal - lovely day - Mr G to garden with 'reader'. 5. Very rude to reader, said would freeze to death, even more rude to me. 6.Blockage in c/h boiler, would not work. 7. Haul Mr G to bed, somehow. 8. Do washing. 9. Come downstairs to flooded kitchen, plumber forgot to tell me NOT to do washing. 10. This a.m Mr G moved to warm, comfortable bedroom OTHER side of works. He screamed for help, swore at me, swore at nurse. Now doors open on to road to facilitate drying, so people pop in. Other than the cliche 'keep your hair on' can't think of any other useful tools. Writing, view if I can get them - second novel finished in Annecy, started in Alps. First looking at my garden. India 'saga' written in any available corner - once, sitting in sun in Pondicherry, a nest of snakes hatched out - I removed myself before continuing diary - if I'd had Facebook, of course, I could have told everybody!

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 4:56pm

Thank you, Gardener, and thank you for sharing a day of your life. I have an eighty-seven-year-old friend with a ninety-three-year-old husband with dementia - a very difficult condition to manage, especially the rage and the rudeness. May you have moments to write and look at the view to help you keep your hair on. All the best.

Tychi's Mum Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 9:18am

Good morning Librarian. I really loved this blog and many of the things that you have written resonate with me.
I feel as time goes on I'm finding my own ways of coping with my severe lows.
I've actually found that for me it's best to "hunker down." My low periods descend on me within a matter of hours without warning and leave just as quickly.
During my lows I now actually abandon all routine. I stay in bed "hunkering." Bed is the only place I feel safe and the anxiety abates a little. I find it very difficult to distract myself from the constant worrying and negative thinking. The one thing I can do is read. I have to choose my books very carefully. Insipid storylines. No darkness and no comedy. Nothing is remotely funny when I'm in the depths of a crash.
I am very lucky I have a very supportive husband who takes over the domestic side of life as well as working long hours and looking after our dog. I also have a small group of friends and family that I feel able to lean on. (I find it very difficult to let people see me when I'm in a low - there are ALOT of tears and alot of distress).
I think that we are all affected differently and have our own very unique coping strategies. As The Beatles sang; "Whatever gets you through the day."
I find it really interesting to read about how others cope. I really admire those of you that can stick to your routines and manage to keep going.
Wishing you all a positive and fluffy day.
Tychi's Mum

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 5:02pm

Oh, I so understand the 'no darkness, no comedy' need! Nothing is remotely funny to me when I'm down either, and I have days where I 'go on strike' and give myself to the darkness. I always come out in time, and often I am more creative after it. Your tears and distress are familiar and understandable - I sometimes let people see me this way but I find it difficult to have a rational conversation and I don't want people to refute my poor opinion of myself at these times. Yet talking to someone, or just be held is what I need more than anything. Thank you for your wishes for the day - I hope yours has been fluffy too and I wish you all the best.

Leah Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 11:02am

Thanks for your fascinating blog.
Unlike Mary and TG , I find mess comforting and a clear desk scares me!!!
Cheers Leah

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 5:05pm

Thank you, Leah. I enjoy your blogs greatly and it is interesting to hear they come from a messy desk! My desk is from my teenage years (it was too small even then), and my house is so small it is currently my dining table - I tend to write cross-legged on the sofa with my computer on a lap tray! And all the mess is put behind me. Wishing you all the best.

Sophie Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 11:04am

Wow I can really relate to this although hadn't made the connections for myself until now. Art is my 'thing' and i've neglected it for well over 12 months now, excuses of I don't have time or space or energy or whatever feels like a reasonable excuse at the time. But deep down i know that if i'm feeling stressed or busy or low or depressed or anxious, then i tell myself there's no point doing anything as I'll only mess it up then get more annoyed with myself.

This year though, and i've not done it as much as I would like, I've taken a different approach so i can still use art as a good outlet. And rather than waiting for a 'good' moment, i almost see the low times as prime opportunity to get it all out. i didn't necessarily change my 'ritual', per se - I still have a drink, some music playing, my bits and pieces evenly distributed around me so everything is close by. But i changed my style of art. I know i still have the ability to paint/draw in a more technical, realistic, sometimes even classical style, but right now I find it more empowering to scribble, and by scribble, i mean scribble! I'm usually such a perfectionist and go to great lengths to stop before i spoil something; i've got so many people who praise me for my "incredible" artworks, and I feel like if i'm not at the top of my game, they will notice. But by doing something COMPLETELY different to how I've worked before, there are no expectations - from me or anyone else. Much of it I don't even share with anyone; I'm not seeking anyones approval. And I force myself to use random mediums (chalk, pastel, pencil, charcoal, paint, erasers, whatever feels right for that moment) and just make marks ont he paper in from of me. I work into it and rub stuff out and add more and scribble over things that looked fine then rub a bit out if i feel it needs it....and I do this until i think 'ok i'm done now'. Giving myself the freedom to mess it up is so liberating. I find that when i think i'm about finished, but then d something radical and add a load more marks, it actually evolves into a more interesting piece. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I really enjoy having the opportunity to take risks in a creative way that I get so much pleasure out of, without needing to worry about the outcome.

Perhaps you could try a similar idea somehow with your writing? Short stories? Poems? Set a timer for 10 mins and just purge whatever is in your mind, it doesnt even have to make sense. spelling mistakes, grammar/punctuation, whatever - this is for you and your way of expending your burst of frustration thats bottled up inside and preventing you from doing things you feel proud of.

A final thing, please don't forbid yourself your ritual of food and a cup of tea - you get enjoyment from that and from that alone - perhaps allow yourself to indulge int hat ritual at other times of the day too, so you dont associate it just with your writing?

Good luck! x

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 5:18pm

Thank you, Sophie. Your art sounds wonderful and it's great to hear that you're working that way. I went to an art summer school about ten years ago and realised that if I allowed myself to make 'mistakes', I often came up with something much more creative. Since the end of Januuary, I have been doing 'free-writing' - letting any old stuff come out, writing through the medium of my favourite character, and it's been amazing what I've discovered about her, and what of my own difficulties I've been working through in the process. I've set myself the challenge of writing 200 words a day and celebrating when I manage it, on several days I have managed to write more than that and now I have over 13,000 words! No one will ever see them and little of it will reach the novel but it will inform what does go into it. And thank you regarding the ritual at other times of day; I've just had a lovely pot of tea on my bench in the garden! I wonder if there's any way of seeing your work via Moodscope or the Moodscope Facebook page? I'd love to see anything you'd be willing to share. Wishing you all the best.

Sophie Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 5:21pm

Good for you! That sounds really positive and rewarding :)

The Gardener Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 11:23am

Librarian - my 'toolkit' now includes calvados and orange juice - have not touched spirits for years. But earned as, in addition to above lot, Mr G had a nightmare about the London blitz. None of his family ever in danger - took me 2/3 hours to convince him that Hitler was not after him personally.

The librarian Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 5:19pm

Oh gosh, very difficult for you - I hope the calvados combo helps... Wishing you all the best.

Anonymous Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 7:44pm

Dear Librarian,

What a moving, beautifully written and thoughtful post, thank you.

May you find someone who will hold you and let you talk.

In the meantime, maybe when you feel least deserving is when you deserve the most? Compassion, kindness, the safety of routines. Or maybe you would benefit from a different, simpler and easier ritual to comfort you.

I wonder if you can gently challenge your superstition - it may be a part of you trying to help you - but you could say to it that you don't need the help any more? That you've got stuff under control?

Kindness is many things...allowing yourself to do what you need to do, even if others don't understand.

Kindness is also very personal...and means different things to different people at different times.

I wonder what happens if you ask yourself what it is and just listen.

I find that Kristin Neff's self compassion break is good even if I feel I am just going through the motions. This is one I learnt on a course:

• Notice that this is a moment of suffering (sympathetic nervous system engaged – blood pressure up, heartbeat up, body tension up, adrenaline and cortisol up, dry mouth, sweaty palms…)
• STOP! Take a moment to pause from habitual thoughts or behaviours (this is perhaps the hardest bit!)
• Say your mantra. You can cut out and use the Kristin Neff one I’ve created or create your own. Learn it by heart. Carry it with you. 'This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.'
• Talk to yourself using some soothing phrases from your Inner Mother
• If your Inner Bitch is active, sooth it/her too.
• Use some physical self-soothing (hug, hand on heart, fold arms, etc)
• Remain present to your discomfort. Notice where you feel it in your body. See if you can show kindness to that part.
• Repeat until you feel calm (parasympathetic nervous system engaged)
Thanks again Librarian. And I hope you can be helped by some of the comments.

Best wishes and kind regards.

The librarian Wed, Mar 29th 2017 @ 6:00pm

Thank you for your comments and thoughts, Anonymous (Meriel perchance?).

The librarian Wed, Mar 29th 2017 @ 6:09pm

Krisitin Neff's self-compassion break was one of the things I have been meaning to put on cards for the 'Bleak Days Toolkit' and will do it now. I'm not sure I will be referring to any part of myself or others - unwanted or not - as a bitch, however! It's a part that needs to be integrated rather than called names. It is, after all, a part of the self that is trying to help and is in need of love and compassion as much, if not more, that every other part of the self. I will mull over the other ideas... All the best and many thanks.

Anonymous Wed, Mar 29th 2017 @ 6:21pm

You're welcome Librarian. I copied the info straight from the course material...I'm not keen on Bitch either but don't have a better name at the moment. Certainly the course leader had the same views as you , regardless of the name. All the best to you too xxx

The Gardener Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 9:31pm

Talking here to try and calm the awful day - there is nobody Mr G has not treated badly, from morning till now. Tried French Samaritans, always busy.I have the French Alzheimers society leaflet here - on the envelope 'Nobody can prepare for daily living with somebody near who has this affliction'. I wish I was a believer - biblical words 'Be strong and of good courage, be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee, wheresoever thou goest' I am writing this against the most awful nastiness.

Leah Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 10:37pm

Gardener Sending you a big hug. Thinking of you. I assume like my mum Mr G never remembers the awful tings he says to you and others. My mum would have me in tears then 5 mis later ask me why I was crying. No one can prepare anyone and it is hard to understand if you haven't experienced a loved one with dementia. Of course every person is different. . It is good you can express your feelings here and I hope it helps in some small way. The nastiness is the illness. You are in my thoughts. Leah

Eva Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 10:38pm

Hi Mrs G, sending you hugs, keep strong and when you get a chance be kind to yourself, you deserve it.

Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 9:42pm

Hi Gardener, however awful Mr G is to other people, please don't feel guilty for it. They all understand. The leaflet you have is right, how on earth can anyone prepare for it and you must try not to take it personally. Go back and take a look at all your photos of the way you were. You're just helping him get through this awful disease, and you are doing it better than most. Thinking of you. Caroline

LP Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 11:03pm

Can you get through to the English Samaritans? They were there for me when I felt in desparate need of some anonymous help.
I agree with Caroline. You are dealing with the illness, not your relationship. Sending healing love and peace to you. LPxx

LP Tue, Mar 28th 2017 @ 11:13pm

Hi Librarian,
Routine helps to keep me going.
I also like the lift that I get from lots of natural light, peace and stillness, beautiful items, so many small but important things that help to settle or motivate me. Alot of it is sensory.
Thank you for a beautiful piece of writing. LP x

The librarian Wed, Mar 29th 2017 @ 6:01pm

Thank you, LP. Nature, peace and stillness are wonderful things, aren't they? And concentrating on the sensory can be so soothing. All the best.

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